US nears 1M cases as states reopen, businesses brace for new normal

U.S. officials continued the cautious process of reopening certain states and localities, which helped to bolster investor confidence on Monday even as the coronavirus’ toll mounted around the world.

As the federal government debated the next stages of a stimulus package to combat the economic effects of the COVID-19 crisis, nearly 3 million individuals to date have been infected, with more than 200,000 dead globally.

In the U.S., the number of infections is nearing 1 million, and more than 54,000 have died. New York and New Jersey remain America’s two hardest-hit regions, but have seen a decline in rates of hospitalizations and deaths. In the Empire State, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo stated restrictions for certain parts of the state would likely extend beyond May 15, has more than 288,000 cases; the Garden State now has more than 109,000 cases.

However, several states are eyeing a May reopening, with New York allowing construction and manufacturing to get back to work as of May 15. On Monday, Cuomo said an antibody survey showed that nearly 15% of state residents have them — with that number nearly 25% in New York City, the main vector of the state’s COVID-19 outbreak.

Confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. are nearing 1 million, with over 54,000 deaths.

The linchpin of relaxing restrictive orders hinges on sufficient testing. In recent days, the discussion has shifted from testing citizens for the virus to trying to determine the extent to which some may have already been exposed, and as a result may have some measure of immunity.

The U.S. has now conducted more than 5.4 million tests — a significant increase in the past few days, but still not enough to safely reopen, some experts say.

In addition, the question of immunity remains an open question. If a person has the antibodies, it is unclear if that means they are immune from getting the disease ever again, after a few years, or if they can get it whenever it comes back if it is a seasonal outbreak.

Over the weekend, the World Health Organization recently said there is no evidence that if a person has the antibodies they are immune from a second infection.

Dr. Dara Kass, a physician at Columbia Medical Center, told Yahoo Finance the level of immunity that antibodies provide will play a role in vaccination trials.

“That frequency may actually play into the vaccination timeline,” she said, adding that even still, it wasn’t clear whether antibodies would provide blanket immunity for those who have them.

The FDA has approved four antibody tests, but more are expected to help meet the demand. Meanwhile, vaccine and treatment efforts continue globally.

‘Forever changed’

Alaska, Georgia, Oklahoma and South Carolina were among the earliest states to get back to business last week. In some states like Florida, parks and beaches have reopened.

Yet others, like California, are taking their time. The Golden State has yet to determine a reopening date, and one mayor recently told Yahoo Finance large gatherings are unlikely until next year. Illinois, on the other hand, is extending its stay-at-home order until May 30.

As states debate relaxing or ending the lockdowns, the stalled U.S. economy is creating real pain for consumers and companies alike. Increasingly layoffs and changes in supply chains are a main concern, according to a new PwC survey of chief financial officers.

As the restart takes shape, certain segments of the economy are grappling with what the “new normal” would look like. That includes employee interactions, and balancing cost and productivity in a more virtual world— as digital transformation reshapes how people work and live.

Amity Millhiser, PwC vice chair & chief clients officer, told Yahoo Finance the work environment has “forever changed, not only for the next generation — who in many cases will feel more comfortable with this technology — but frankly, for all of us.”

Meanwhile, the focus remains on key pharmaceutical companies involved in the search for ways to contain or cure the disease’s effects. Markets are eagerly awaiting the first results of Gilead Science’s (GILD) antiviral drug trials, which are expected this week.

Regeneron (REGN) and Sanofi (SNY), who are working to repurpose a rheumatoid arthritis drug to treat COVID-19 patients, have shifted their focus to critical patients only, the two announced Monday. The trials will focus only on the most critical patients, and shift to only a high dose of the drug, rather than also testing a lower dose of the drug.

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